It was producer Lauren Shuler Donnerís idea to set the film in the world of the
Internet. In the original film, James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan correspond by writing
letters. Shuler Donner felt that the modern version of anonymous correspondence is the
instantaneous "cyber post office" of e-mail.
"The Internet affords you a great candour and intimacy," she says. "You
canít be embarrassed because you donít know the person. I think that, being on
the Internet, one may expose oneself further and faster in a relationship than one would
normally in a face-to-face situation."
"The internet ... is really a series of villages"
There are very clear rules that most people follow on the Internet. As director Nora
Ephron says, "You donít tell who you are. Itís very much about safety and
about being free to say whatever you want to, without ever thinking that youíre going
to be faced with the fact that the person wears really ugly shoes or whatever your
nightmare may be.
"The Internet looks infinite," continues Ephron. "But, like a great big
city, itís really a series of villages, full of people who care about similar things
connecting with one another."
This sentiment echoes Ephronís view of New York City, and specifically the Upper
West Side community where the movie is set. The Upper West Side is a self-contained,
distinct and real neighborhood, filled with both enduring landmarks and noisy
construction: small shops that have been there for decades, where the owners know their
customers by name; restaurants where people become regulars over time; parks where
children greet one another on their daily excursions; all set side-by-side with new
apartment buildings and businesses that compete for space and attention. The neighborhood
is active and organic, evolving and growing, yet retaining its singular flavor, style and
pace. Itís both small town and big city, familiar and forbidding, endearing and
No one knows this world better than its longtime residents, co-writers Nora Ephron and
Delia Ephron. They have sought to reveal their special neighborhood in all its
"Bookstores have become more than just stores to buy
Delia Ephron was inspired to recreate the warmth of the specialty shop in the original
movie, where the employees formed a sort of family, by setting the story around two very
different bookstores. "Bookstores have become more than just stores to buy books --
they are places where people browse and drink coffee and meet and stay for hours,"
The two bookstores in Youíve Got Mail are quite dissimilar: The Shop Around the
Corner is a small, beloved childrenís bookstore that has been an integral part of the
neighborhood for two generations. Fox Books is the latest branch of a giant chain of
bookstores. The small store caters to its young clientele with a knowledgeable,
book-loving staff and intimate story hours, often presided over by the shop owner. The
chain, with its cafť, infinitely larger stock and discounted prices, appeals to a much
larger crowd composed of all ages, who are interested in relaxing and socializing amid the
stacks of books and racks of magazines.
Production designer Dan Davis felt that filming in existing sites in New York City,
rather than on a soundstage, would more fully bring the unique flavor of New York to the
story; it was an idea that the filmmakers enthusiastically embraced. The two bookstores
were actually created on the streets of Manhattan. The Fox Books facade, in fact, appeared
so authentic during its construction that passers-by regularly asked the production crew
when the new bookstore would be opening.
The filmmakers always knew which actors they wanted for their lead characters: two-time
Oscar-winner Tom Hanks and popular favorite Meg Ryan. Nora Ephron is thrilled to be
working with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan for the second time. "I always have both of them
in mind. Itís very hard if you write a comedy to not think about both of them,
because they are so good. And itís a short list of people who can do comedy, much
less do it well."
"Tom and Meg look as if they belong together"
Ephron says there is a bonus to pairing them in a movie. "You know how often you
see married couples who almost look as if theyíve cast each other? They kind of look
as if they belong together. Tom and Meg look as if they belong together. Thatís the
"Long before we started to remake ĎThe Shop Around The Corner,í"
continues Ephron, "I had been saying that Tom Hanks is as close as there is to Jimmy
Stewart and, of course, now he is playing the part that Jimmy Stewart once played. Tom has
such charm; he is so irresistible that he can play a bad guy and you never once believe
that he doesnít truly have a heart. I think Tom and Meg share something, which is
that men and women love them in equal amounts."
Lauren Shuler Donner worked with Hanks on Radio Flyer and has an equal appreciation of
the actorís appeal. "No matter what emotion he has to display, itís all
there in his eyes. He brings intelligence, humor and romance to the part. He provides the
unexpected; he brings wit and charm."
Tom Hanks explains that his character, although apparently in a "perfectly
happy" relationship, "is looking for someone with whom the conversation is
sincere and effortless. This is the reason my character reverts to the AOL chat room as
often as he can, because heís found this other person, this electronic e-mail pen
pal, in whom the energies are so synchronous and the conversation just flows
"itís an unspoken thing between us.."
Hanks relishes the opportunity to work with Meg Ryan again. "I just think we pick
up right where we left off. I must say that the first time I sat down and talked to Meg is
just like the last time I sat down and talked with Meg. In our actual working together
day-to-day on the set, itís an unspoken thing between us... When it came time to do
this, it was just a matter of a single phone call, a single conversation, and we were
there. Itís just very, very, very easy and I think our life, in real life, when we
talk about our homes and our kids and whatnot is equal to our life at work. Itís the
same exact sort of speed."
Ephron, an acknowledged expert on the nuances of contemporary romantic comedy, enjoys
finding the conflicts that reveal her characters before they finally succumb to true love.
She calls this the "ĎI hate you, I hate you, I hate you, I love youí
affliction. Thatís what When Harry Met SallyÖ has, and itís certainly the
backbone of the greatest romantic comedies, like It Happened One Night and the original
The Shop Around the Corner."
Lauren Shuler Donner echoes this sentiment: "I think for any good love story there
has to be a reason why the lovers canít get together," she says. "In
Youíve Got Mail, there are two great reasons: one, they donít know each other,
they are only exchanging words on the Internet, and two, in real life they hate each
other. This gives the audience a wonderful sense of desire for the two people to be